How Congress Works and Why You Should Care

How Congress Works and Why You Should Care

Lee H. Hamilton
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 02/26/2004
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978-0-253-21695-3
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2005 AAUP Public and Secondary School Library Selection

How Congress Works and Why You Should Care is a concise introduction to the functions and vital role of the U.S. Congress by eminent former Congressman Lee H. Hamilton. Drawing on 34 years as a U.S. Representative, Hamilton explains how Congress reflects the diversity of the American people, serves as a forum for finding consensus, and provides balance within the federal government. Addressing widespread public misperceptions, he outlines areas where Congress can work better and ways for citizens to become more engaged in public affairs through their representatives in Washington. How Congress Works and Why You Should Care is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the inner workings of Congress, and how all citizens can participate in its unique mission.

Author Bio

Lee H. Hamilton was U.S. Representative from Indiana’s Ninth District from 1965 to 1999. He served as Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the Joint Economic Committee, and the Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress. He is now director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He lives in Bloomington, Indiana.


“An inside look at the way Congress works and how it impacts the lives of all Americans, by an eminent former congressman. Part criticism and part vigorous defense of the legislative branch, the book is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the inner workings of Congress, and how all citizens can participate in its unique mission.”

“Lee Hamilton’s book not only describes the Madisonian vision of what Congress is supposed to be and assesses how it measures up to that vision today, it also serves the same function of educating and edifying the American public that the Federalist papers did. . . . Every student of Congress, and every American, can benefit from this book.”
 — Norman J. Ornstein, Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute

“A passionate and eloquent defense of the essential role Congress plays in the American constitutional system and a reasoned call for citizens to engage more actively in their representative democracy. Like Hamilton himself, this volume is scrupulously honest, fair-minded, and accessible to a wide audience.”
 — Thomas Mann, W. Averell Harriman Senior Fellow in American Governance, The Brookings Institution

“Lee Hamilton's new book . . . should be required reading for any American contemplating writing a ‘Letter to the Editor’ or calling into (or hosting) a radio talk show, or for that matter, stepping into a voting booth. It is an owner’s manual for citizens interested in their Congress.”
 — Charlie Cook, Editor and Publisher

“Americans cannot be faulted for having a deeply jaundiced view of their Congress, says Hamilton (Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars); he ought to know, because he served as a Representative for Indiana from 1965 to 1999. But he argues that people can and should fix it rather than give up on it completely.February 2010”
 — SciTech Book News

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Table of Contents

Chapter One: The Role of Congress
Why Congress exists
Core principle: Sovereignty of the People
Core principle: Balancing powers in government
Congress and the President
Why federalism works
Key power: Passing the basic laws of the land
Key power: The power of the purse
Key power: Congress and foreign policy
Congress and individual liberties
The roots of our success

Chapter Two: The Impact of Congress
Congress and the fabric of our lives
Government's greatest endeavors
An ordinary day
Congress does more work than meets the eye
A balanced view of Congress
Members of Congress who had an impact

Chapter Three: How Congress Works
A complex institution
An evolving institution
The many roles of a member of Congress
Representing constituents
How a bill really becomes law
Why we need more politicians
Power in Congress
The House and the Senate
The awesome responsibility of voting
The frustrations and rewards of Congress

Chapter Four: Public Criticisms of Congress
"Members are a bunch of crooks."
"There's too much wasteful, pork-barrel spending by Congress."
"Legislators just bicker and never get anything done."
"You can't trust what members of Congress say."
"Congress almost seems designed to promote total gridlock."
"Members of Congress compromise too much."
"There's too much money in politics today."
"Members are out of touch with their constituents."
"Congress is run by lobbyists and special interests"

Chapter Five: Key Ways Congress Could Work Better
Declining civility
The importance of good process
Better White House/Congress consultation
True congressional oversight
Improving ethics enforcement
Thinking about the future
The money chase
Improving public understanding of Congress
Tackling the tough issues
Congress and the common good